Kvartærgeologi & Paleoklima

Mountain glacier-rock glacier interactions

Exploring glacier-rock glacier transition on large spatial and temporal scales

Rock glacier
Benjamin Robson


In response to deglaciation, newly exposed paraglacial material may destabilise and, through slope modification processes, add supraglacial debris coverage to the ice below. A thick, continuous debris cover will insulate the underlying ice from solar radiation, reducing ablation rates and increasing the longevity of glacial freshwater stores. Supraglacial debris can significantly alter a glacier’s dynamics and behaviour. Recent studies have shown that, given certain dynamics and conditions, debris-covered glaciers may transition into rock glaciers.

Rock glaciers have enhanced climatic resilience compared to debris-free and debris-covered glaciers, allowing rock glaciers to persist in valleys and provide freshwater long after glacier recession. In the context of a warming climate, the hydrological value of rock glaciers as high-altitude frozen freshwater stores will become increasingly significant. However, our current knowledge of glacier-rock glacier transition is considerably poor, but if the process is widespread, the high mountain cryosphere and its freshwater stores may be more resilient to climatic change than previously estimated.

My PhD project aims to provide insight into and continue developing hypotheses regarding the evolution of glacier-rock glacier complexes over large spatial and temporal scales using field and remote sensing techniques. Improving our understanding of the transitional process and its implications is critically important if effective water resource management strategies are to be successfully implemented to mitigate or adapt to the impacts of climatic change.